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Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 2032

Mr BRAITHWAITE(3.40) —The Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) says that the Australian people are sick and tired of the alleged scare tactics of the Opposition and that misleading information has come from the Opposition. I deny that. I have been given information on that by people other than the shadow Minister for Health, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton), and my colleagues. Genuine concern has been expressed to me by elderly people and sick people within the community about many of the policies that have been introduced by the Labor Government. I will mention two programs-the assets test and Medicare. I know the Minister will cringe when I mention the assets test.

Dr Blewett —Not at all. I am proud of it.

Mr BRAITHWAITE —He is proud of it. I suggest to the Minister that, if he wants to do his job properly, he should forget about the mechanics of a program, about the Public Service and about what will happen here and there, and go to the people and explain the situation properly to them. Medicare was introduced with misleading advertising to the effect that it was a free national scheme.

Dr Blewett —Nothing of the sort.

Mr BRAITHWAITE —That was so. That was part of the scheme.

Dr Blewett —The one per cent levy was always part of the scheme.

Mr BRAITHWAITE —The levy was part of the scheme but people were being offered a completely free national scheme. What happened? People dropped out of private hospital insurance on the basis that they would be covered under Medicare. But certain factors were not highlighted, such as the fact that one could not have the doctor of one's choice and that operations could not be performed in a private hospital. Quite a few people-I will not say hundreds and hundreds-have complained to me. They dropped out of their private health schemes because of the initial advertising and found six, eight or 10 weeks later that they still required private hospital insurance. As a result of the time lapse they had to go through the waiting period again when they rejoined.

Mr Carlton —Two years.

Mr BRAITHWAITE —Two years, as the honourable member has mentioned. Many people were caught in that situation. I say to the Minister that this is a matter involving people, not mechanics; so if he is going to introduce a program he should go out and sell it and tell the people about it. I have only to go to a nursing home or old people's home in my electorate to find that this issue is the first thing that concerns them. One of the main things that people look at and want to know about when they are reaching retirement is that their health care is certain and that their retirement benefit, if they do not provide for it , is certain. Yet the pensioners, the elderly and the sick are concerned about both critical areas.

Far from having the freedom offered in the old scheme by the previous Minister of knowing care was provided if one was a pensioner or elderly person and had to go to a hospital and that there would be no waiting list, all this has changed. These people do not have access to their own doctor in all cases. They do not have access to transport to and from a hospital in all cases. When they get to a hospital they have hanging over their head the fear that if they are not regarded as acute patients they will be obliged to depart from that hospital within 35 days. This must have an effect on the minds of the people who not only need hospitalisation but also fear that as they get older they will have more and more need for such services.

There is confusion and because of that confusion there is the grave crisis that the honourable member for Mackellar mentioned. I have mentioned in connection with Medicare the removal of the option of choice of doctor. The Minister has said that there are not any waiting lists at hospitals and that that is just a figment of our imagination. He has said that doctors are double-dipping in regard to elective surgery, or something like that. Why in the name of goodness did the Minister not go to Britain and find out the real situation there? Under the national health scheme the situation is such, I understand, that people have to wait for up to two years for elective surgery. There are queues at the public hospitals. We have the same position here. Nationalised medicine has meant that our public hospitals have waiting lists. One has only to go to a public hospital and a private hospital in any city in Australia to note the congestion in one and the available beds in the other. If the nationalised scheme cannot be said to be victimising the private hospital scheme, I do not know who is telling the truth.

I turn to another point made by the Minister when he said that he received advice from doctors that they preferred to deal with this matter on their own. It is a pity he did not take the doctors' advice in many of the other cases instead of forcing them into a situation which for the first time led them to call a strike in the New South Wales hospital system. The Minister was not prepared to take the doctors' advice on that occasion. Since then, I understand, a report has been brought down which states that the Government did err in trying to establish certain criteria to determine the amount of income that specialist doctors should earn. I suggest that it would have been better to have more consultation with the people who deliver the services.

I have mentioned the 35-day entitlement. When I use the word 'entitlement' I do not mean to say that under the Medicare scheme one could get such a commitment. As I have said, we can see from the British experience that there are growing queues under the free hospitalisation system as people are forced into accepting the doctor of the hospital's choice and have no private insurance. That situation must automatically come about here. The change of circumstances in the reduction of the 60-day rule to 35 days has also led to a change in criteria relating to a person who is in need of acute care. I ask honourable members to think how that would affect an elderly person in need of acute care moving temporarily to a hospital from a nursing home. That person must wonder how acute his condition is and whether he can retain the bed in the nursing home. I know of situations where people have been discharged from nursing homes in order to go into hospital and they have not been able to get back. The proposal to provide respite care beds does not help at all.

I will deal with Queensland where Medicare has not given elderly people the satisfaction, or the comfort and the knowledge that they will get the services as and when they want them. We have gone from having a free scheme in Queensland to having what is happening in the rest of Australia. We have queues in public hospitals and empty beds in private hospitals. I ask: How far have we advanced the cause there?

The Minister made mention of the fact that $100m had been saved because of certain proposals that have been put into place, and that was basically part of the program. He mentioned the bureaucracy. Nobody is denying that the bureaucracy should not for ever be under constant public and ministerial scrutiny. That is part of the business of government, I believe. Any efficiency demonstrated in that regard is well and good. Where will the rest of the $100m saving come from? It will come from the doctors. It will come from hospitals and nursing homes, which now have to agree to new criteria, making certain beds available. In fact the pinch has not affected the Government. It has gone right back down the line. The Government says that it is taking a 1c in the dollar levy from those people with taxable incomes above a certain amount. That money is coming again from the people who have the energy to get out and earn it. They are paying the total costs. After paying the 1c levy it will cost them more money if they still want private hospitalisation. So the total cost has escalated and not come down. For those people who desire the doctor and hospital of their own choice, this is a significant factor. So the cost of providing the program is being borne again, as is the case in so many of this Government's programs, not by the Government but by the people themselves. This is not a government of care and concern for the people-the constituents of Australia. It is committed to an ideology forced on it by the left wing which requires it to nationalise not only health, as it is doing at present, but also everything it can lay its hands on. The Government will learn from the British experience that once something is nationalised standards are reduced, and everything that goes with nationalisation results in suffering for the individual.

I can only go back to my personal experience and refer to the people who have seen me. I refer not to what I have learned from the shadow Minister for Health, the honourable member for Mackellar, but to my daily contacts with constituents who have these fears. I say to the Minister that I do everything I can to allay those fears by saying: 'This is the program. This will happen. That happens with the assets test. This will happen here'. People can be warned and people can be told, but giving them the comfort of knowing they are not in trouble is something the Minister just has not done.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired .